Monday, September 09, 2013

Blurred Lines

DSCF0472

It's a fact: If you stumble around in an existential haze long enough, people will start calling you out! At work, at the deli, at the random head-on collision... if ONE MORE person asks me why I'm not blogging anymore, I'm gonna have to come up with an answer! So far though, I've only mumbled a half-response while stifling the deployment of my middle finger. Just today, I was touring WRAL-TV when some very nice strangers piled accolades on the words I used to string together. If that wasn't enough to make me stare holes through my windshield on the way back home, I plopped down in the middle of what was once The Lenslinger Institute only to discover a eulogy of sorts from News Blues editor Mike James...
"Veteran news photographer Stewart "Lenslinger" Pittman, whose Schmuck Alerts and flowery prose always made us smile, hasn't posted to his blog 'Viewfinder Blues' for more than a month. Last we heard, he was recovering from a painful divorce and was struggling with writer's block and career fatigue."
No. He. Didn't. Okay, so he did. And you know what makes it so much worse? He's 100% correct. I am recovering from a painful divorce (to-be) and I'm damn sure struggling with writer's block and career fatigue. That first condition is more my business than yours, but I can tell you this: my wedded bliss is distant history and while I will never, ever, ever understand why, it's something I'm learning to accept. This realization, of course, hasn't come without some collateral damage: depression, self-doubt and enough unanswered introspection to make Dr. Drew huff a can of paint. As for writer's block, well, she's the only mistress I've ever had ... a frigid bitch who moves in and makes me pay for all the nights the Muse had her way with me. I'll run that hag off soon enough, but probably never for good. (Perhaps I should file for a restraining order.)

And career fatigue! Does twenty three years of riding around with gear in the rear even qualify as a career? Did Dr. Seuss take over the last half of that sentence? Is this thing even on? You show me a person who's slept, stepped and crept through as many deadlines as I have who doesn't have career fatigue and I'll show you an unfeeling schlub with a musty ball of gaffer's tape where his shriveled little heart used to be. Career fatigue, PFFT! I got three week old camera batteries with more wear and tear on 'em than the occupational distress I've shared with you people! I have not yet begun to bitch! So bring it on, snarky office mate! Take your best shot, creepy delicatessen lady! And you there, with the badly-wrapped sat truck and feigned concern for my well-being - come at me, bro'! I'll turn your latest mistake into Top Ten fodder, get plugged by News Blues in the process and STILL have to drag some beauty queen into the abyss tomorrow morning!  And as for that whole blogging phase I went through....

I'll get back to it eventually.     

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

In The Short Rows...

Tobaccoslinger
Traipse through your days with a lens aloft and people will naturally assume you care. More times than not, you don't, for after awhile the homicides, new brides and camel rides all blend together, until a choice parking spot outside your favorite diner thrills you far more than the meth-lab bloodbath just down the road. It's why I try to keep a low profile... head down, eyes up, deadline in the middle distance. It's a crucial insouciance, the kind you find in Waffle House waitresses, cab drivers and other hollow-eyed zombies. See, only the brain-dead know what a dozen-yard stare will do for your outlook. It also comes in damn handy when you're trying to blend into a crowd of strangers with a fancycam for a face.

That's where I found myself last week, navigating through stacks of tobacco, before briefly traveling back in time. I should have seen it coming, I suppose. But who can spot a rip in the time-space continuum with one eye shut and twenty men trying to step on your feet? I can't even find my car keys most mornings. So is it any wonder I backed right into a portal of sorts, a distorted corridor where the tobacco glowed, my own hair bristled with thickness and '1999' was still just a futuristic Prince jam. Back then, opening day at any self-respecting warehouse was a gala event. Growers, buyers, beauty queens and politicians, all soaking in the aroma of the selling floor. There would be speeches and ice cream and high noon live shots. That's where you'd find me, scanning the crowd for flashes of pageantry and the free Krispy-Kremes...

 I hovered there for awhile, watching my twenty-something self almost slip on the canvas corners of now obsolete tobacco sheets. It's there I first perfected my back-pedal, that languid lope you try to fall into as the prisoner/politician/pervert at the center of your screen tries to walk right through your pupils. I faltered at first, but after getting trampled a time or ten by men with tobacco spit on their chins, I learned to get the hell out of the way. These days, my biggest obstacles are flashbacks, time warps and the occasional urge to break-dance like no one's watching. Yes, middle age isn't pretty. Neither is the view that ensued I returned to my corporeal form... The crowd was smaller, the golden leaf moldy and I ... I, was still a freakin' cameraman...

This gig really should come with a Surgeon General's Warning.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Beak to Geek

New Penguin

Every once in a while, something unexpected wanders into frame and drains the moat around my soul. It usually happens at soldier homecomings, Special Olympics or certain City Council meetings. Okay, so I'm lying about that last one, but the fact is we TV stevedores ARE occasionally capable of human emotion (like those conflicted cyborgs of Science Fiction, who bring civilization to a grinding halt with their incessant meddling). Lately, I've strained in vain to keep my pathos under wraps. What can I tell ya - parts of my life continue to suck. But since I hold no patent on that predicament, I choose to lose myself within the lens. That I do, puttering around the eye-cup like some creepy lighthouse keeper.

Then along came Brenton.

A seabird of some distinction, Brenton met me at the back door of the Greensboro Science Center's new penguin exhibit. Unlike the rest of her colony, Brenton wasn't as interested in the bucket of fish as she was the cameraman who came with it. I was flattered, if not a little weirded out, at the creature's curiosity. Like a cat, she rubbed against my ankles, then stopped to stare up into my eyes like a homeless Basset Hound. So I returned the favor, twisting the macro ring on my lens until my new girlfriend snapped into focus. Brenton didn't flinch. Instead she met my gaze with deep black eyes that seemed to flicker with wisdom. Chances are she was checking her reflection, but as we stared across the great divide, the glacial malaise of these last six months melted away and for just a moment the present felt better than the past. That's when I heard someone laughing and realized it was me.

Don't worry, though. I'm sure the feeling will pass.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dreck at Eleven



News crews have it rough. They're overworked, underpaid and labor under a false sense of relevance. All of which makes me very reluctant to ridicule them - even from afar. After all, I'M one of them and when it comes to putting dodgy content on the air, there is blood on my hands as well. But never in my rashest hour have I foisted the kind of foolishness willingly broadcast by certain employees of WJAR-10-NBC in Providence, Rhode Island. Perhaps you've seen it: A young reporter caps off her live shot on a bear attack with a few helpful attempts on how to stave off a similar incident. What followed was an abomination. The reporter (we'll call her Julie Tremmel) cavorts, overacts and generally displays behavior better suited for a game of stoner charades than an actual newscast. While not privy to the logic behind this ill-advised addendum, I do believe I recognize the the sordid core of this report. Sooo, at the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy (I prefer 'curmudgeon') I'd like to offer some unsolicited advice, First, though, some background:

For as long as I have hoisted a lens, local TV stations have done their best to drive themselves out of existence. The sins of the fathers have many. Vacuous ass-hats and admitted degenerates have always gravitated toward our field. Long before early engineers knitted the first color patterns from stolen Indian blankets, folks who couldn't make it in the real world have found solace and acceptance underneath our heavily-logoed tent. This is nothing new. What is new(ish) is our industry's insistence on hearing the cheap, the young and the inexperienced. Major market shops that used to hand pick journeyman staffers now fill their newsrooms with folks barely out of college. Considering the salaries they offer, this only makes sense. But the corner-office crowd has thrown the baby out with the bathwater, replacing exiting veterans with a generation of journalists whose sum life experience comes from binge watching Jersey Shore.

Don't get me wrong. I work with plenty of young reporters who strive for nuance and intelligence in their work. But I know many more whose idea of a sound journalistic skill-set is a stack of glossy head-shots, some far flung agent and a wardrobe they really can't afford. It is these pretenders I'd like next to address...

ATTENTION YOUNG BROADCASTERS: You have dedicated your days to an industry in decline. What used to be considered a vibrant signal of society is now just so much noise. Loyal viewers are dying off by the hearse-load and they're not being replaced. Your Mother may be impressed at seeing little her baby on the tee-vee, but the rest of the nation considers your ilk somewhere between tax collector and pedophile. By no means is this your fault. Generations of buffoons before have long ago paved this road to irrelevance with ego, affectation and hard hitting reports on how this washcloth could kill you(!). But while you're not totally responsible for broadcasting's prolonged demise, you did willingly jump aboard this listing ship. If you have any hope of treading water, let alone lap your competition, you must remember this:

Credibility is key. People at home and on the street already assume you're a preening idiot. Most many of you are not. If you plan to stay employed, or at the very least parlay your regional fame into a sweet P.R. gig, you must bleed validity. You must project (and protect) personal integrity with the zealotry of an suicide bomber. Sure, acting foolish on the air may land you on Letterman's couch, but it probably won't land your insipid mug on any hometown billboards. Wanna go viral? Skip the condom next time you hook up with some drunken Millennial. Otherwise you're best hope of becoming a web sensation lies in the people you interview. Let some hapless sap or idling baby-mama turn soundbites into passing catch-phrases. Your job is to play the straight man (or woman). Wanna perpetrate something stupid to ping-pong around the internet?

Ain't nobody got time for that.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Slingin' in the Rain

Wet Etheridge
Up next on our runway, young Dustin Etheridge in a whip-smart ensemble that just screams professional regret! With his cherry red slicker and musty black trousers, this is one broadcaster who knows how to make a splash! Whether he's grilling a tipsy Senator, accosting shoppers outside his least favorite Wal-Mart or just plain dumpster-diving under heavy deadline, Dustin dazzles with a minimum of chafing! And those shoes! Sensible yet sassy, you'd never guess they spend most of their time buried in the floorboard of a nameless news unit. Which is exactly where you'll find this  strapping glass-handler - once he's fended off the affections of fans, a family of geese and that homeless woman with the Last Supper tattooed on her throat! Is it any wonder so many TV News types ape his trademark look (and smell)? Yes, the next time you're fleeing the island for higher ground, drop by that shabby hotel where the sat trucks gather and soak in the sartorial splendor! Oversized logo's, wrinkles that stink and enough ill-advised head-wear to make a once proud milliner slit his wrist! But you don't have to commit to a life of late shifts and dollar menu items to capture this look! Simply troll the discount bin at your local sporting goods store, stash what you score in a forgotten gym bag and you'll be dressed to impress the next time the News Gods take a dump on the Fourth Estate!

At least until Cantore shows up... Dude goes nowhere without a trunk full of windbreakers and shoe-lifts.

Monday, July 08, 2013

There Doze My Hero...

Sleepy-saurus Rex

Faster than a crashing newscast, more powerful than an intern's optimism, able to stretch a single fender bender into thirty seconds of forgettable television. Look! Over there! It’s ... it's ... some poor camera dude struggling to stay awake. But take no pity on this mere mortal, for he's folded time on a daily basis, made sitting Presidents sweat and poked a thousand holes in the sky. We won't even talk about all the pretty people he's rescued.

Posing as Rex, a mild-mannered cameraman, our hero plods through his day without the benefit of tights and a cape (though his utility belt would make Aqua-Man sink). Instead, he fights for truth, justice and a decent lunch -- all while taken for a catatonic commoner. But don't fall for all the yawning. Beneath the surface, this unlikely everyman is bristling with super-kinetic energy, knowing at any time his Metropolis could fall victim to plague, pestilence or a six-part series on airport bathrooms that no one this side of Krypton wants to watch.  

So take heed, miscreants! Should you be unlucky enough to stumble across this protector of the electorate, don't even nod in his direction. Otherwise, he'll pounce like a half-mad jungle cat, use his near X-ray vision to see your weakness and cast its reflection to the heavens and beyond. Before you know it, you'll be trapped in a satellite shot, explaining your own secret identity to the likes of Anderson Cooper.  

Nobody wants that. We'd rather watch the airport bathroom thingie.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Jaws of Life

Road Rash

Here's something I picked up on the side of the road: perspective. For years I didn't notice it, lying there among the bits of windshield and broken chrome. Too lost in youthful stupor, I never appreciated how the shadow I cast on that glittering asphalt had all its limbs attached. It just didn't seem important then. I'd bebop up to a jack-knifed semi, crack wise to anyone who would listen and grow impatient if the trooper didn't make a beeline to my microphone. But an unfunny thing happened on the way to jerkdom. I grew up, one ghastly accident at a time. The sound of a second grader wailing in pain will do that to a fella. So will watching a soccer mom take a helicopter ride moments after she made the last wrong turn of her life. All that chopper-wash won't just chip your lens. It'll ding your soul if you're not paying attention. Next thing you know, you're skulking through your shift with a pockmarked conscious, an unseemly beast who's happiest tapping his foot in the breakdown lane. Don't be that guy (or even that girl). Let the house-cats back in the newsroom high-five over the head-on collision. Your job is to gather the facts, harvest the verve and be a decent human being. Anything less is just bad customer service.   

And we need all the customers we can get.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

It's Not Over...

Daughtry On Stage
Should ever you get the chance, I highly recommend securing a neighborhood rock star. We here in the Piedmont have been blessed with the presence of one Chris Daughtry, who turned a celebrated stint on a certain reality show into a viable career as the modern day Bon Jovi. In fact, I'm thinking of naming him the Official Recording Artist of Viewfinder BLUES. (Hey, no OTHER globally known vocalist stops his sound-check to ask me about my blog. I'm looking at you Jack White!) Anyhoo, where was I? Oh yeah, the bald guy with the blistering pipes. Shannon Smith and I first met Chris shortly before American Idol made him into a household name. Suddenly, the dude who used to write up service orders at the local Honda dealership was silencing his own idols with weapons-grade swagger and propulsive vocals. Not bad work if you can get it.

These days, Chris doesn't need a news crew to get him some press, but he still throws us locals a bone whenever he can. Such was the case yesterday, when Shannon and I met the band at the Greensboro Coliseum, where rehearsals for a new tour were winding down. That's where we pulled up a couple of equipment cases and got down to the business of interviewing the local boy done very, very good. Shannon did most of the heavy lifting; I just huddled behind the camera and tried not to yell "Freebird!" That became even tougher a few minutes later, when I joined Chris and his crew onstage for a bracing round of 'Let's deafen the cameraman'! That they nearly did, though I'm always up for a little hearing loss whenever the Daughtry gang wants to bring the thunder.

THUN-DA!

Sorry, my frontal lobe's been spewing out classic rawk standards ever since Daughtry singed my eyebrows with his blowtorch of a throat. And that was before he showed me his six page spread in this month's Muscle and Fitness Magazine. (Dude, put a shirt on!) And while you're at it, Chris, remember what I said about recording a cover of 'Tie Your Mother Down.' Not only would you do Freddy Mercury proud, but you'd turn a new generation onto the early Queen canon...

I even know a guy who'd shoot the video... Cheap!

Monday, July 01, 2013

Suddenly Stew

Viewfinder BLUES Home OfficeIt's not you. It's me. I'm the one who left you here, wondering why the web's wordiest camera nerd suddenly went so silent. Okay, so maybe you weren't wondering, but the fact is my dedication to this once sacred space has withered beyond words. Why? Well, I fell on black days. The details of such don't belong on a blog best known for 'Schmuck Alerts', but I feel strangely compelled to let my few remaining readers in on why I went away. Several months ago, the Missus and I began to experience 'Technical Difficulties' and as a result, I nearly came unplugged. I'm a little better now, but we are far from well. In fact, we no longer share the same address. The rest is, how do you say, none of your business.

Just know that your friendly neighborhood lenslinger has been shaken to the core and, after months of introspection, has decided to stop referring to himself in the third person. So bear with me as I pull myself out of this thickening morass and get back to kicking ass. Once upon a time, sharing my thoughts here felt like a blessing. In the past year, it's turned into a curse. I'm reminded of a moment I shared with best-selling author Jerry Bledsoe many years ago. A local celebrity of sorts, the highly successful crime writer read Greensboro's many blogs and hated most of them. To me, he was more generous. "You're a pretty good writer, Stewart." he said. "Expect it to bring you years of misery." I chuckled nervously at the remark, not really understanding what the old man meant. Truth is, I still don't. But as my life zigs where I thought it would zag, I can't help but remember that day. Whether it brought me misery or bliss, I don't think Jerry would have wanted me to stop writing.

So I'm not. Gonna stop. Writing. To continue doing so would be to further deny my DNA. For better or worse, it's just the way my brain works. And frankly, I'm tired of apologizing for that fact. Thus, I hereby declare this once vibrant site newly open for business. With more than a little effort, I can work up the momentum to deliver on it's original promise: 'Pithy Epistles from the Thinking Man's Photog'. Of that, I'm quite capable - once I pry my head out of the proverbial oven. As for my sucking chest wound, let's just ignore it, shall we? Spare me the marital advice, the Bible verses and the elastic maxims. Do that for me and I'll try to keep the woeful bales to a minimum. After all, that's not what you come here for...

When you come here at all.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Schmuck Alert: Release the Hounds!

Crazy Bitch 2Just when we thought we'd seen every form of miscreant take on The Fourth Estate, a Rhode Island homemaker goes all inter-species on an undeserving news crew. It happened in Providence, Rhode Island, when an ABC6 news crew asked a grumpy mother just what she thought about her daughter's alleged attacker turning himself into authorities. But 35 year old Melissa Lawrence wasn't in the mood for questions. She was, however, more than happy to cast the first (and last) stone. God only knows what was going through photog Marc Jackson's head as the crazy bitch in his viewfinder drew back and hurled a rock at him. It missed his head but grazed his elbow. Lesser men may have flinched, kicked, or loudly vowed to smite every living descendant of said rock-lobber. Me, I'd have gone all Samuel L. on the lady, informing her in stentorian tones that I would strike down upon thee with SER-I-OUS VENGEANCE! (if not a restraining order). But who has time to quote Pulp Fiction when the hector in question breaks out the baseball bat? Not me. I'd have been down the road l-o-o-ng before charm school dropout Melissa Lawrence opted to let the dogs out. (What ever happened to "No Comment"?) Before Jackson or reporter Abbey Niezgoda could fully process what was happening, the reluctant interview subject whispered something satanic to two scary-ass Pit Bulls. What followed wasn't pretty. The two growling curs nip at the young reporter's heels. One even bites her arm, eliciting cries of pain and forcing Niezgoda to drop the mic and exit stage right. She was able to escape further attack, but will no doubt carry scars she'll have to ignore the next time some news manager orders to knock on another dodgy door.

Exit Stage RightYa know, just because a news crew punched your address into their GPS, it doesn't mean you have to give them an interview. You can turn them down, ignore them altogether, even flip the predictable bird. What you CANNOT do is launch projectiles, sic devil dogs or throw burning oil on the underpaid interlopers. It seems simple, really. An uninvited member of the media has no right to trespass on you property. They can, however, loiter on a public street and ask you rude questions. You don't have to answer them, but neither do you have to lose your ever-lasting mind and openly assault a person whose primary objective in life is to visually record any and every thing that hoves into view. Should we reslly still be covering this? I think not, but with attacks ratcheting up seemingly every month, it's only a matter of time before the first documented zombie attacks goes down live one night, as some hollow-eyed corpse takes a chunk out of Wendy Miniskirt's skull in the reassuring glow of the Breaking News banner. Maybe we'll get lucky and it'll happen during sweeps.

PS) Authorities have charged Melissa Lawrence with two counts of felony assault, effectively ending her campaign to land 'Miss Congeniality' in the upcoming Miss providence beauty pageant. Maybe for the talent section she could set fire to an orphanage? Just a thought... Schmucks!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Days of Ray

Ray+Manzarek+The+Doors+Rock+n+Cycles Pay no attention to that dirty hippie making love to his microphone stand... THIS is about the man behind the keyboard.  His name is Ray Manzarek and he is freshly dead. Once upon a time, he co-founded a band by the name of The Doors - a frightening little combo with no bass player and a lead singer dripping with charisma, chaos and quite a few chemicals. “The Lizard King”, he called himself and it got a lot of press. But the musical landscape upon which Morrison trod was largely built by that cat hunched over the Vox Continental.

A contemplative gent with a degree in Economics, Ray Manzarek grew up playing piano before meeting Jim Morrison shortly after completing UCLA Film School. What followed was a collaboration of music and madness, a troubling amalgam of theatrical bedlam and psychedelic sensibilities. Did I mention the music kicked ass? It did, but only in the most unconventional ways. And while Jim with his tortured howl and angelic looks got all the camera time, all ears were tuned in to the kaleidoscope of sound Ray wrenched from those primitive, carnival-like keys.

But Ray did more than provide a musical underpinning for his friend to preen upon. He also kept his lead singer alive. For awhile, anyway. Onstage, Ray, along with Robbie and John, would fill in the gaps between Jim’s natural genius and his drug-fueled delusions. In fact, all three instrumentalists became adept at punctuating their leader’s musical missteps with just the perfect flourish. Credit Ray, whose precision, intellect and deep hippie street cred foiled Morrison’s grimmest proclivities. For far too short a time, they made music: brooding, spooky tunes that had more to do with setting worlds on fire than wanting to hold your hand.

Long after Jim Morrison left this realm, Ray found himself explaining their days away. Verbal, kinetic and usually smoking, Ray Manzarek gave the kind of interviews rock writers dream about. “I played Apollo to his Dionysus!” he’d tell any scribe who’d listen and they’d always nod, not always knowing who Dionysus was.  That’s okay, Ray did. For Manzarek made music with a fallen God and he seemed to know this long before Morrison ascended into legend. Now that Ray has joined him, there’s no telling what those two are up to. One thing’s for sure, though...

It sounds like nothing else you’ve ever heard.

Sighs of a Lifer

Slantscrum
How do you know you're in a room full of veteran photogs?

When the returning soldier pops out of a kindergarten closet, everyone stays on sticks.

Four minutes into the press conference, no one is rolling.

Enough collective battery power to fuel the International Space Station for at least a few parsecs.

Not a microphone flag in sight.

Three of the men present would look quite at home with an eye-patch and shoulder parrot. 

Little to no fidgeting,

Free food never consumed on sight. What you smuggle out in cargo pockets is between you and the Lord. 

"Black eyes, lifeless. Like a doll's eyes. When he looks at ya, he don't even seem to be livin'. Then he hits that litle button and those black eyes roll over white..."

And the number one sign you're in a room full of veteran photogs?

That oversized folder the PR chick just handed you is suddenly missing.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Gnats on the Glass

At least he got the shirt right.
You there - with the Etch-A-Sketch... Don Ho just rose from the dead and he wants his shirt back. While you’re at it, hand over your health insurance card. It’ll come in handy when they have to chopper you out. 

Nah, I’m kidding, no one’s gonna lay a hand on you. But don’t be surprised if you pop up on indignant photog blogs across the land. See, you’re being a tool. We’ll get to why in a moment, but let me ask you: Would you barge into a Major League dugout during a game and start swinging a Wiffle Bat? ‘Cause you kinda just did. It’s one thing to whip out your tablet-cam and block some granny’s view of the proceedings, but when you start crowding out the pros, you’re treading on dangerous ground. See that dude slumped over his tripod? He may look asleep but twice now he’s committed your image to his memory card (You know, in case you should go missing.) And his buddy with the fishing vest and look of indigestion? He’s already wondering if your intestines will fit in his live truck’s glove compartment. Careful, his elbows are considered lethal weapons in three states.

Me? I’m a lover, not a fighter. But block my shot and the sequined glove comes off. It’s a professional courtesy among those of us who squint for a living and one I’d gladly extend to you and that magic portal you’re clutching. And just so you know, we’re ALL Apple fans. But you’re trying to prepare a four course meal using nothing but a dinner plate and it offends our sensibilities. So keep that sidelines and we’ll get along just fine. Remember, the iPad is a wondrous thing, but so too is the human rectum. If I were you, I’d go with the smart phone instead. Might be easier for the paramedics to remove. Don’t worry though...

 I’ll be happy to call 911.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Debacalypse Now

Charles Ramsey Once upon a time, a photog's only concern was keeping the live truck between the ditches. Now these TV stevedores have to worry about spreading global viruses. Take the latest case of Charles Ramsey - that whimsical witness who's helped a nation heal snicker and snort at a sadistic rape and kidnapping. Sure, he kicked that cursing anchor kid out of the national consciousness. And for that he should rightfully be heralded a hero. But what about those underpaid souls pointing glass at this latest sensation? Will they be able to move past the part they played in this predictable passion play? Can they sleep at night knowing a passel of catchphrases can be directly linked to the twitch of their collective thumbs? Many can not and as their focus goes, so too does their sanity...

It's why we here at The Lenslinger Institute are proud to announce the opening of Camera Manor, a full service rehabilitation facility for those living with the fact they unleashed a lunatic across the land. Already, scores of wards are filling fast with photogs caught in the grip of P.H.S.D. (Post Hyperbole Stress Disorder). Spotlighting ass-hats may launch a million internet memes, but the scars left on the news shooter psyche don't fade as fast as Balloon Boy, Sweet Brown, Grumpy Cat...

Just ask Hobbs in Room 13. Once at a train wreck, he jammed a camera in a hobo's face. How was he supposed to know hobos yodeled? Well, they do, and before Hobbs could even find his tripod, the yodeling hobo went viral. Old dude eventually got a reality show, even banged a Kardashian. Meanwhile, Hobbs is blinded by remorse. Says he poisoned the planet, added to the inanity and brokered a hobo's third case of the clap. Hobbs took it hard. Eventually we found him in the photog's lounge, sewing his eyelids shut with tiny strips of gaffer's tape. Now he sits in the dark in Room 13, making shadow puppets only he can see. 

But YOU can help the residual victims of telecommunications abuse. Just send a blank check, valid Lotto ticket or complimentary keg to The Lenslinger Institute  and we'll see that the lost souls at Camera Manor hear just how much we enjoyed your generosity. Meanwhile, feel free to snicker at the very next hysterical neighbor who rockets to the top of your Twitter feed. But remember...

A guy with two credits of film school under his belt and three bucks in his billfold is a terrible thing to waste.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Blood on the Moon

Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 6.40.54 PMIn a world where ambush interviews often lead to fisticuffs, isn’t it refreshing when one goes goofy instead? That’s exactly what happened recently when WJLA reporter Kris Van Cleave and photojournalist Brandon Mowry took on a local carpet cleaning company suspected of sketchy bookkeeping and unscrupulous suckage. It could have ended there, with a terse denial and quick eviction of said camera crew. But the man being questioned, whom will call “Dumbass”, turns in a performance so textured. so nuanced, so completely ill-advised, that the resulting clip is playing all summer long at the Dollar Theater in my head. Now, if you’ll kindly stop kicking the back of my seat, we’ll get through this...

The first fifty seconds is pretty standard fare. Van Cleave questions the man about getting his floor covering cleaned as hidden cameras rolled. But shortly before the minute mark, the camera comes out of hiding and stupidity ensues. Flush with the realization that he’s about to make the news, the upbraided sensation dashes from his place of employ, forcing Van Cleave and Mowry to join in pursuit, lest the suddenly agile upholsterer runs completely out of camera range...

And then God blew milk out of his nose.

At least I did, for as soon as Dumbass split the scenery, he took a tumble, biting it hard on the pavement outside and emitting the kind of mortally wounded Girl Scout noise that causes News Directors to shout when the photogs gather around and guffaw at a particularly pleasing sequence. But the fun doesn’t stop there. With a dazzling flash of ass-crack, Dude gets up, breaks left, breaks right and breaks left again before circling a van and finally running off. Mowry and his camera follow, as Van Cleave does an admirable job of keeping the wisecracks to a minimum (my favorite: “Does this mean you’re not gonna clean my carpet?”).



All the while, the reluctant interviewee displays a brazen case of ass and elbows, at one point nearly running in front of a moving car, a risky move that could jettisoned his news debut to the very top of the next available broadcast. Luckily, no one got hurt, though I’ve put a definite kink in my spleen laughing at the raw footage. As it sputters to a close, dude is still running, no doubt to earn his fellow floor covering saboteurs that the jig is most definitely up. Wherever he went, this track-suited fugitive left a definite impression, raising the act of running away like a leetle girl to the level of performance of art. Bravo, Good Sir, Bravo. You deserve to go viral and possibly even score your own reality show development deal. Why this hasn’t been Songify’d already could be the subject of another investigation - one I’d be more than happy to assist with any reenactments. You bring the fancycam...

I’ll bring the ass-crack.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

View to a Shill

New Turd
You can fool some of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time, but any photog worth his weight in camera batteries will smell your bullshit from across the crowded conference room. Oh, he’ll keep his mouth shut. But a little while later, he’ll chuckle in disgust as the the dumbest crumb that fell out of your pie-hole comes to rest at the top of his timeline. Pretty soon, said soundbite will echo across the High Valley Homeland or Quad-City Metroplex or whatever else the promo guys decided to call those six wasteland counties no one else wanted. My point is this: if ever you find yourself leaning into a podium and tap-dancing around the truth, keep a careful eye on the man behind the camera. Chances are, he’ll tell you what he thinks with only an eyebrow or two.

Unless, of course, he’s under thirty. TV news shooters born after ’83 will no doubt be so absorbed with their iPhone app, that you could belch a soliloquy from ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ and they’d never once look up from their Instagram feed. If that’s the case, you’re safe until some night-side editor stops hating his life long enough to isolate that moment where your upper lip starts sweating. Consider it a professional courtesy. Better yet, put it out of your mind altogether and just stick to the script. That way, you’ll never catch of sniff of dissension from tripod row. The newbies won’t look up from their friends list and the lifers won’t blink Morse code messages your way. Remember, Nixon LBJ knew he’d lost Middle America when Cronkite questioned the war in Vietnam. You can avoid your own political quagmire if you lay off the hooey when those old photogs in the corner start to sneer.

It ain’t like they can help it. We unplug any facial restraint shortly before we remove their souls.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Walking Dread

Bill and Ted Once we trim those hedges behind The Lenslinger Institute, we're slapping up a statue of the great Stanley Roberts. I figure hippies will hike in from both coasts to take a piss on it and we can charge them a fee to leave with their reefer. But if I was a bleary-eyed Phish fan, I'd stay the hell away from anything that resembled Mr. Roberts. After all, dude eats Trustafarians for breakfast. For as long as anyone in the Viewfinder BLUES break room can remember, this oak tree of a bloke has been boldly exposing 'People Behaving Badly' for KRON in San Francisco. Since that part of Cali appears to be the ass-hat capitol of the world, Stanley works in a target-rich environment. But it can't be easy. Just last week in Berkeley, he ran afoul of two dred-heads who took time from not bathing to protest the presence of Stan's camera.



The resulting clip is kinda quick, but who needs background when you got Otis and Moonbeam?  That's what I've come to call the duo who question Stanley's right to stand on a public sidewalk and point his camera at what was clearly an unemployed dog. This didn't set well with Bill and Ted, Beavis and Butthead Otis and Moonbeam. Having spent the morning rolling in sheepshit, the pair invaded Stanley's personal space, his lens nearly fogging over from the stench of dung-crust and day old Patchouli Oil. If that weren't bad enough, twenty seconds in a third greasenik lost his damn mind and tried to pull Robert's camera from his considerable grip. The effort was unsuccessful.  Stanley kept his camera, got mountains of press over the silly incident and laughed his ass off a few days later when the three - ahem - 'men' were arrested. As for Stanley, he suffered a sprained back and a damaged camera, but it didn't stop the Big Man from expressing himself...

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 "For the record I am fine, outside of a sprained back. I refused to go down without a fight and I used equal force to defend myself, in other words I got my licks in too. Hey I'm from Philly what would you expect?" 

Nothing less, Stanley, nothing less...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bedtime for Bonzo

Chimp Exam
“If at anytime, we yell ‘get out’, get out!”

“Don’t worry’, I told the zookeeper as I squeezed into a pair of coveralls two sizes too small. “ I’ll be vapor by then.”

The lady grunted behind her surgical mask and turned, leaving me on the loading dock to wiggle into wardrobe. Why is it every time I get to go deep, I gotta do so lookin’ like a mental patient? I once toured the world’s most humid aspirin factory wrapped head to toe in protective gauze. I rode along with forest rangers as they lobbed fireballs into acres of bone-dry woodland. They made me dress like the grown-up from Curious George. And now I was gonna get clinical with a somewhat sedated chimpanzee, but only after a certain inseam cut my package in half.

“Mask. Gloves. Let’s go.”

Inside, no fewer than eight anxious young humans gathered over an examining table. Once I wedged an opening in the wall of overalls, I finally laid eyes on the patient, and got more than a nose-full. Sprawled out on his back, the adult chimpanzee looked to be sleeping off a bender. All around him, masked figures poked and prodded. One smeared gel across his furry chest, another studied the grooves on his fingertips. Me, I settled into my viewfinder and free-rolled. Letting the time-code spin, I zoomed in, held a shot for ten seconds and found another one. A pungent funk fell over the room and I couldn't decide whether it was the inert simian before me or my own stinking breath beneath the surgical mask.

That’s when the monkey moved.

Okay, so a chimp isn’t a monkey, but taxonomy goes out the window when the sleeping beast before you starts to stir. The vets and zookeepers (hard to know who was who behind those masks) reacted calmly, shsshing in his ear the way a parent might do with a murmuring baby. It wasn’t the first time I witnessed the conviction of the zoo’s caring staff. Nor was it the first time I eyeballed the exit that day, just in case our not so little friend woke up with a sudden thirst for cameraman throat. The chimp was no threat, of course. Any of the masked staffers around me would have gladly garroted me to a pulp had I so much as bled on their majestic beast.

I tried to remember that as I rotated around the table, taking careful note not to trip over any electrical cords and plunge the room into some kind of post-apocalyptic abyss. With my luck, I’d come to in the grizzly pit as a strangely sentient pack of black bears argued over who got to nosh on photog liver. Just as that daydream got really weird, a throaty rumble snapped me back to reality.
 
“Finishing!”

Every human in that small room suddenly stepped up their movements, except the one zookeeper who’d been leaning against the wall the whole time, cradling a shotgun. That dude never moved, but the hirsute hominid on the table sure did, raising his powerful arm and growling deeply as the coverall crew pushed equipment out of the way and closed in around him. Sensing a closing shot in the making, I backed up to the wall and fished my wide angle lens out of its pouch. If they were gonna manhandle the animal out of the room and into a cage before he started singing show tunes, I was gonna be there to record it. Or so I thought.

“ALL NON-ESSENTIAL PERSONNEL LEAVE THE ROOM!”

‘Wonder who that could be?’, I thought as I tightened my wide angle into place. That’s when one of the female keepers reached over and damn near pushed me off balance.

“ALL NON-ESSENTIAL PERSONNEL LEAVE THE ROOM!”

I half-stumbled out of the room, wondering what ever happened to “get out!” By the time I did get out, I was laughing from behind my mask. I hadn’t meant to wear out my welcome, but I was one shot away from a perfect ending and the lure of said resolution held me in place, no matter how many testy veterinarians or waking apes there were in the room.

At least I know my place on the food chain.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

To Serve Man


Ever wonder what it's like to be an 'Executive Chef'? Me neither, but when the suits insisted that I find out, I ran from the newsroom before they could changed their minds. After all, they could have said 'Toenail Curator',  or 'Llama Jockey' or 'Septic Tank Specialist'. That would really sucked, as the bosses wanted me to wrap an entire reality show around said profession. Okay, so 'reality show' may be a stretch, but a fifteen minute chunk of reporter-free TV was going to take a lot more focus than the kind of slapdash minute and a half I usually fill. Luckily, the grown-ups found a most excellent specimen in one Leigh Hesling. A culinary journeyman with down-under roots , Chef Hesling came complete with an army of underlings, his very own catch-phrase ("Loife changing stuff!") and two of the most tricked-out kitchens in the Greater Piedmont Googolpex.

When it comes to photog-friendly environments, I'd rank restaurant kitchens somewhere between daycare playground and helicopter cockpit. They're just too many sharp edges and slippery floors, not to mention a platoon of beefy dudes in funny hats who will gladly body-check you into the nearest fry vat, should you get between them and their tub of mushroom truffles. Speaking of scalding cauldrons, I'd rather soak my frontal lobe in a red hot crock-pot than ingest one more frame of culinary wonderment. Maybe that's because I've spent so much time locked in an antechamber, stewing in my own juices as visions of twice baked souffles danced across multiple screens. The resulting piece ain't exactly news, but neither were the past six imperiled animal epics I slammed together. At least THIS shoot came with a handful of jumbo shrimp!

(Wrapped in bacon, no less.)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Doom with a View

Race Cam
All that I know about NASCAR can best be summed up with the words "Boogity Boogity", but one need not be a racing fan to have seen the horrific crash at Daytona this weekend. Me, I've only been to one such race and it was only because my bosses were paying me to be there. Which is why I so identify with one particular person in the above frightening frame. There, just left of center, a figure trying desperately to get away from the point of impact does so under heavy glass...

Closer CamOkay, so it's no surprise a dude with a fancycam would be at the right place at the wrong time. In this case it's an ESPN cameraman named Craig. I don't know Craig, of course, but I'd like to buy him several rounds of his favorite drink and listen to what he has to say. Chances are he'd tell me it all happened too quickly to process. And while you don't have to have a face full of viewfinder to be overwhelmed by inertia and debris, it does provide an additional degree of disbelief.

Some blame the tiny black and white screen shimmering in the middle distance. Stare at it long enough and you begin to feel you're watching television, not making it. These days, however, those screens are bigger, closer and drenched in every hue under the sun. You'd think that kind of color and clarity would remind the operator that what they're seeing is all too real. You'd be wrong.

Crash CamTwice in my life big things have tried to kill me and the camera on my shoulder. I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I'm always on the lookout for number 3. And while that kind of vigilance comes with middle age, I'm as susceptible to the lure of flickering pixels as I've ever been. See, there's a real kick to watching life through a tube. The laminated ID around our necks affords us unparalleled access. The cameras we so cradle take us even closer. As a result, we photogs feel like a part of the scenery - be it a flimsy fence surrounding a racetrack or a ribbon of yellow tape enveloping a crime scene...

What's my point? Don't know that I have one. But what I'm sure that I possess is a similar world view to that Craig the cameraman. Some folk might seek therapy after such a grisly incident. Most photogs, however, wear that kind of trauma like a badge of honor, a notch on their camera strap that bleeds street cred and chafes when no one's looking. I'm guilty of it myself, but the older I get, the older I want to get.

So do me a favor. The next time you're incredibly close to something sketchy, enjoy the view. But if that little voice in the back of your head begins screaming, do heed its plea. It's only your common sense, telling you to exit, stage whatever. Do so, for no piece of video is worth your name on a grave. Sure, people might marvel over what you captured there at the end of your life. Hell, they'll remember that shot forever. But make no mistake...

They'll forget YOU.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Terms of Coverage

I'll be there Whenever a popular dog goes missing ... and is then found ... and a TV station is called... and it's kind of a slow news day... I'LL BE THERE. 


Whenever a CEO approaches a podium to take credit for something an underling's done... I'LL BE THERE.

Whenever a fire department burns a house on purpose and doesn't send a press release... I'LL BE THERE.

Whenever a 'local institution' closes their doors for the very last time because it didn't get enough publicity... I'LL BE THERE.

Whenever an elected official shows up at a toll booth without any pants... I'LL BE THERE.

Whenever there's only skid marks left from that bad wreck this weekend... I'LL BE THERE.

Whenever rent-a-cops wage war with common sense... I'LL BE THERE.

Whenever you duck into a diner with a woman you shouldn't be with... I'LL BE THERE.

Whenever the sheriff thinks it would be a good idea to show the public how clean the new jail's toilets still are ... I'LL BE THERE.

Whenever aliens with bloodshot eyes, knobs for knuckles and that Benny Hill song on their lips show up asking for members of the media, I'LL---

Actually, you're on your own with that one.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Nevermore


Was a time I actually wanted my Carolina Panthers to make it to the Superbowl, but after seeing what a Baltimore news crew had to endure after their team did, I'm kinda glad Cam Newton and the boys continue to suck. God forbid they ever get that far, lest I be forced to point a camera at a nervous co-worker while hundreds of unhinged degenerates try to crush our live truck. What makes an otherwise lucid group of young people devolve into hysterics whenever their team wins a title? Is it alcohol? Or the NFL's three-day pre-game show? Perhaps it's the ghost of Mayberry's rock-throwing ruffian, Ernest T. Bass, wreaking his vengeance for missing out on the whole Poetry Slam movement? Whatever the cause, it's nothing this wordy camera-nerd will ever understand. But enough about my hobbies, let's go to the videotape!

It's unclear what we're seeing in the above clip. Is it a true copy of the live shot as viewers saw it? Or is it a desperate field recording made by a news crew hoping to explain how their brains came to be eaten by hollow-eyed zombies? My guess is the latter, but maybe I just don't want to believe a TV station would send two unprotected souls into such a predictable maelstrom. You're right - that would NEVER happen. No way any affiliate would insist on placing their employees in the path of destruction just so their anchor team can have advise the youngsters to 'stay safe out there'. Next thing you'll tell me they send TV reporters to stand in the path of a Category 4 hurricane with little more than a few Red Bulls and a wireless microphone. Oh, wait...

But who CAN wait when you're about to ripped limb from limb on regional television? God knows it always makes me antsy. With that in mind, I will give that FOX 45 lady props for keeping her cool, considering ten seconds into her live shot, grown-ass men were dancing on top of the truck like Michael Jackson outside a California courthouse. "Eee-HEEE!" On second thought, make that "DROP THAT MICROPHONE AND COME WITH ME IF YOU WANT TO LIVE!" That's what I would have been screaming had it been ME underneath that particular camera. Hey, I'm all for showing folks the way, but when ravenous (get it?) sports fan envelop me and my gear in a sea of techno blood lust, I kind of lose my religion. That's me in the storm drain...slashing at passing ankles with a rusty Leatherman while I scream Judas priest lyrics. (Hey, it's MY meltdown!).

Speaking of meltdowns, the FOX 45 crew did anything but as shirtless fools shimmied up the mast of their live truck. Ya know, I've spent hundreds of hours beneath such a thing and never once had the urge to strip to the waist and man-hump it. Then again, I'm a tangential sports fan at best. I don't fully grasp the agony of defeat, not to mention the thrill of going mental with a few hundred of my closest friends, all because a group of pampered millionaires won a few new imaginary girlfriends. But I digress, which rhymes with 'egress' - something I'd seek at the first of a mob coming my way (pitchforks or not). Alas, the crew in question stood their ground, far longer than they should have, simply because someone safely ensconced in a TV station control room was getting their rocks off at the sight of all those tools on parade.

Now back to you...PLEASE!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

For Your Consideration...

Randy Scrum
Brash nameplates clash with my drapes, so I don't go for trophies. If I did, I'd love a nod for Best Use of Handheld in a Randy Jackson Camera Scrum. I know, I know: it's a tough category. But, I've been poring over the submissions list and I feel pretty good about my chances. After all, I worked the Charlotte auditions LIKE A BOSS! I recorded every staged utterance within fifty feet of an idling Escalade, put up with Mariah Carey's lighting spy and only snaked three Cokes from the Idol crew cooler over a thirty six hour period. Hey, it was unlocked! Besides, this ain't my first rodeo cattle call slaughterhouse of dreams. I was workin' this circuit when Clay Aiken was in pig-tails. Really - I got Polaroids! Just ask Seacrest! Me and him and I are likethat... when his goons let me in the room. Anyhoo, where was I? Oh yeah, hoping for podium gold come pageant night! What will I wear?

That's not important right now. What IS important is that I review my tape in totality and hone profound moments. Technically, you're supposed to turn in only what actually aired, but since it's NON-linear editing, it don't really count, do it? Honest to God, I must have drunk my weight in energy drinks that weekend I locked myself in that back edit bay... Who knew a trashcan could hold that much urine? Don't answer that! I got no time for Math. Not with this entry form... Says here I have to fill out these six three by five index cards with marketing data and return them in the self-addressed, gold-embossed envelope. First though, I gotta write a three paragraph essay on why I think I'm not wasting their stationery, then attach that to a secured traveler's check in the amount of $217.48 per entry ($74 more if you want the knife set).

Ya know, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. The competition is FIERCE this year, even with Glenn "Tentacle" Stinson on the sidelines with an eyelash injury. Word is some of the old school guys are getting back in the game. How am I supposed to score serious chrome when sack of bones from 'Star Search' won't go away? So help me, I will Gillooly one of those old coots if they get between me and my mantle candy! ... Forgive me, I'm just under a lot of stress. The contest deadline is drawing near and I haven't decided which clip to enclose with my check. Not that it matters.  My darting eyeball style is so Two Thousand and Late. These days, you gotta roll in like a dorm fridge and just sit there. Straight up surveillance. Last year a guy won for creating a civil disturbance outside "Talladega's Got Talent!'. Something about a Hasselhoff and a tire boot, I dunno. Anyway, with that kind of talent out there, I don't stand a chance... 

Though it's an honor just to nominate myself.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Panic at the Disco

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Dance like some cranky stranger's not following you around with his fancycam. That was the challenge facing a gym full of third graders this morning as the local paparazzi threatened their discotheque. Poor kids never stood a chance. Jacked to the gills on some kind of chocolate milk concoction, they continued to get on the good foot, despite the glass handlers circling the dance floor. I was there, of course, but so were others. To my left, none other than Bill Welch surveyed the rave. A card-carrying member of The Lenslinger Institute, and a fully licensed wise-ass, Bill is about as battle-hardened as they get. I once saw him dress-down a CPR dummy for lying down on the job. Which is why I gave the man a wide berth as that damn Carly Rae Jepsen song played for the 704,362nd time this Summer Fall Winter. Moving in, I hovered over a kid in a SpongeBob hoodie who looked to be channeling Usher. Uncertain where that placed him in the pop culture universe, I stayed loose, all the while eyeballing Mr. Bill.

That's when it happened...

A sonic boom high overhead, an unnoticed rip in the Time Space Continuum, a haunted dodge ball from gym classes past - something struck the volume knob on the pocket sized boombox there by the door, thrusting 'Call Me Maybe' into the stratosphere and causing your not so humble host to consider pouring the contents of two nine volt batteries down both ear canals. I would have done it too, but I was under deadline and over the limit. So I made like a young Axl Rose and shimmied sideways all serpent like. It was one of those patented moves that told the world Axl wouldn't age very well and as soon as I came to a rest, I regretted ever buying that stupid Use Your Illusion double album back in the Nineties. Meanwhile the Carly Rae song morphed into some Lady GaGa abomination and I was forced to consider the overall safety of a fire-breathing brassiere while in the company of children.

And for that there's simply no excuse.

But before I could report myself to the authorities, there was the small matter of capturing said dance number, already in progress. Jamming the rest of my face into the 'cup, I tried to crawl inside my viewfinder. I didn't fit, so I pivoted to my right and followed my lack of focus from one little tot in mid-robot to another young upstart who insisted on doing everything Gangnam style. "Whatever, kid," I found myself thinking. "You'll come to regret that when the puberty hits. That was enough to make me consider all the things I regretted once puberty arrived, a list so long you'd need a blog all by itself just to cover the Captain and Tenille years. Scanning the room for another adult, I came up empty and watched a nine year old bust out a pretty respectable moonwalk. It was at that point I noticed Bill, hunched over and in the zone. He was - GULP! - smiling. Not an evil grin either, but a general look of satisfaction. It was ... troubling. Worse yet, Bill noticed my discomfort and straightened up before I could look away. He didn't say a word, but something in that smile reminded me that this grumpy old cameraman was, in fact, a loving Grandfather.

Don't worry, though, Bill. Your secret's safe with me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wish I Was Ocean Size...

Fifer Ashore
Wanna feel small? Go stand by the ocean. Wanna feel large? Squeeze into the shotgun seat of a police car with a full-blown fancycam and tell the guy with the badge to 'just ignore you'. If you can still move your legs when that's over, hobble on over to your nearest Zumba class and tell the ladies to pretend you (and your camera) aren't even there. They won't and you'll leave there feeling like a leper. But wait - there's more! Swing by the health department, go straight to the VD clinic and start -ahem-erecting your tripod. You'll be lucky to get out of there with only a rash.

So what's my point? I don't know that I have one. Mostly, I'm just riffing on this totally kick-ass picture of Adam Krolfifer (taken by reporter Kira Klapper, no less!) What with its foreboding horizon and sepia tones, it truly is beautiful. Then again, so is an early morning crime scene, if the light is just right. Honest to God, I once found myself marveling at the way shadows fell over the shattered glass of a violated Stop-n-Rob. But rendering splendor from the glum and the mundane is something we lenslingers pride ourselves in (that, and steering a news van with our knee). Why, it all reminds me of a quote from the master:

"For every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled."

That's truer than it should be be, considering it came from the drug-addled brain of the late great Hunter S. Thompson. The father of Gonzo Journalsim was more of a sports writer than photog, but he had an eye for detail (and nose for blow) that I've long admired. Those of us who do carry cameras for a living know it as fact: For every ballerina that preens on your screen, half a dozen body bags must pass through your glass. Remember that next time you're waiting for the medical examiners to arrive. Just don't get in their way when they do...

Those guys don't play.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

License to Grill

DSCF0572Ever parked a billboard on the edge of misfortune and trolled for commotion? It’s not as fun as it sounds, but if you’re gonna be any good at this gig, you gotta ingratiate. Take today - all thirteen hours of it. What started as friendly hello at a reporter’s desk grew into an urgent journey, a feverish bee-line to a distant ‘burg, where reticent detectives, quivering witnesses and a halfway decent lunch made for a Thursday I’ll most likely soon forget. For now, though it’s on my mind, so let me knock this out so I can go get some sleep...

What makes a man stab a deaf-mute? It’s a question I hadn’t considered until fate placed in a speeding live truck this morning. Carter Coyle rode shotgun, a young reporter with a winning grin and considerable energy. She too had no clue why a guy would (repeatedly) plunge a knife into a stranger, but we both knew our lunch depended on nailing down the other four W’s. That may seem crass considering the crime, but when you data-mine calamity for a daily wage, you learn to do so from a distance. Emotionally, anyway. Physically, you gotta get up in it, which is why, after questioning a guy with a badge on his belt, Carter and I plunged into the heart of darkness. Actually, it was a rundown block on the West side of town, but you get the idea.

Twelve hours earlier, a young man with a history of violence did his best to end an old man’s future on this very spot. The old man was well known on these streets, a grizzled figure who didn’t let his inability to speak or hear stop him from begging for cigarettes. But bumming smokes was de rigueur in this ‘hood and the old man was much beloved among the saints and sinners that roamed its many yards and alleyways. How do I know Because they told us so. Five minutes after we’d parked the live truck in a side lot, a phalanx of aging neighbors lined up before our lens, eager to ask my glass why anyone would try to kill such a harmless old soul. We had no answers for them, only carefully crafted questions, designed to spawn responses in full sentence form. Oh, did they oblige.

“He ain’t ever done nobody no harm!” a man with deep creases on his forehead said. “I hope who ever did this suffers!” wished a woman with more fingers than teeth. Carter and I didn’t dare look at one another, for we knew better than to question such on-camera manna. This was the kind of emotional outpouring are bosses crave, soundbites to die for, if you will (even if you won’t). At that very moment, the young man with blood on his blade sat in a jail cell downtown. The old man was much further away, hooked to wires and tubes in a distant intensive care unit. His stab wounds were many, his chances few. Sad as that is, we didn’t really dwell on it there on the street.

We were on deadline after all, and with so many locals emoting on-cue, my focus was on the glowing red light in the corner of the screen. But the pitch and timber of all that anguish eventually seeped into my skull and as I edited the footage later in the day, I couldn’t help but think of my place in the world. Who am I to swoop in and demand answers? I hold neither a degree or warrant. I can offer the average bystander little more than a soapbox and a rickety on at that. Aside from my empathy, they will receive no cash or prizes for appearing in our show. But time and time again, people in precarious positions step before the glass and pour forth their darkest fears. Why? Is it just the chance to be on the Tee-Vee? Or is it just human nature to share perspective, hurl invectives and whisper things into a logo'd lens that they wouldn’t even tell detectives?

Don't ask me. I just drive the truck...

Monday, January 07, 2013

Any Given Live Shot


You know, I've carried more reporters than most parade floats. But try as I might, I can't ever remember knocking one down. It's not that I haven't thought about it. Any photog whose stood off-screen while their on-air partner crashed and burned has fantasized about ending it all. It would be as easy as pulling a plug, I guess, but taking a talking hairdo out at the knees is far more fun to fantasize about. But to actually do it, well, that's something only the network guys get to do. Until now.

Seems the talented staff at KARE 11 in Minneapolis-Saint Paul have a clause in their contracts, some special paragraph that grants them the right to knock a correspondent on their arse whenever the mood suits 'em. At least that's what I gathered after watching one of the most perplexing live shots I've ever seen. And that's a a lot coming from a guy who once convinced Garth Brooks to stick around for a little happy anchor chit-chat. But enough about my life as a faux-cowboy wrangler, let's go to the videotape!

It's a pretty exceptional seventy-some seconds. Lee Valsvik, a nice enough lady who doesn't seem to deserve what's about to befall her, chats happily with her morning show hosts before quizzing someone she identifies as a 'mixologist'.) Personally, I got the heebie-jeebies then and there, as anyone who goes by that title better pack at least two turntables and a microphone.) But music doesn't seem forthcoming as our intrepid reporter soon hands her guest a football and encourages him to hurl it. He complies and that's when the damnedest thing happens...

A figure emerges from behind a table, catches the football and, inexplicably, begins running right for the camera! Problem is, Valsvik is blocking his path and though she seems unaware of the barrier she presents, the mysterious receiver seems totally okay with it. Then, before you can say, "Oh Shit! He's gonna plow right into her!", he plows right. into. her. As hits go, it's pretty spectacular. I could describe it , all right, but it's really the kind of thing you have to see for yourself. Go ahead... I have, like three dozen times!

But no matter how many times I re-rack that point of impact, I cannot for the life of me understand what they were trying to do. Then again, what little I know about football could be etched onto the side of a single Tic-Tac, but that doesn't stop me from thinking this play seemed wiser in the huddle. Now, sources close to the collision tell me the runner in question is a talented photog NOT known for body-checking correspondents. Perhaps, but with a hit like that under his belt, I can't help but wonder if dude didn't inadvertently invent a new sport... 

I'D buy tickets.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Just Screw It

Morning Workout
Though I'm still a few weeks away from deciding on a New Year's Resolutions, I'm gonna go ahead and cross organized exercise off the list. After all, my job comes with its very own weight set. And who needs a personal trainer when petulant News Gods send me scampering up overpasses at midnight while wearing mismatched socks? Hell, I already twist, bark and cajole enough per shift to qualify as my very own aerobics instructor. See, I don't need to heave on some imaginary rope to 'feel the burn'. Not when I just pulled five hundred feet of camera cable up a smelly stairwell, all so some dude in a suit could address the allegations room the comfort of his conference room. And what's with that medicine ball? Come at me with that thing and you'll taste the rust of my Leatherman. Maybe then you'll understand that TV news photogs don't train, stretch or warm up. Instead, we curse and bellow while backpedaling down a fire escape with six sworn frenemies and a future felon.

Even DODGING work takes whole muscle groups not found in your average office park. Don't believe me. Let an assignment editor catch sight of me as the police scanner goes ballistic. I'll drop to my fingertips and low-crawl out of there before the ghost of Jack Lalanne can get his house slippers on. How fast I slither away depends on the nature of the call, of course. Explosion at the City Sewer? I'll crawl through a burning Mens Room to avoid that one. Strange flames over Colostomy Peek? I'll be hiding in the ceiling panels, if you need me. County Commissioner take a rival hostage? Let God sort 'em out. The water park's on fire? I gotta see THAT one!

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, taking umbrage at the very idea I may wanna pay somebody to make me sweat. Have you seen me in Mid-July. I'm like one of the mutant superhero types whose special powers only make him more of a social outcast. Check and check! Now if you don't mind, I have a bunch of batteries to charge and that's NOT a euphemism for my new hot yoga class. Sooo, for the love of my shattered kneecaps, please refrain from implying I might be more comfortable in a down-dog position. I'm limber enough as it is, mainly from squeezing into cop car cockpits and worming my way out of any shoots involving county commissioners, cadaver dogs or flu clinics. It's there in front of the desk I expend my most energy -- from shrugging at the news of a Presidential pit-stop to shirking my responsibilities as weather video getter. Yet there are times I'm all about ridding my body of toxins... Really, wanna see me drop and squat? Come to a stand-off that last more than six hours...  

You'll never question my metabolism again.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

New Year's Spray

First Baby Watch
"Congratulations, Ma'am! By giving birth in the wee hours of January One, your now the proud parent of the Upper Golden Homeland's First Baby of 2013! Not only do you receive a generous gift basket filled with rubber gloves and talcum powder, you get to be media darling of the day! That's right! At absolutely no cost to you, we're gonna smear pictures of your precious snowflake from the Capitol to the Coast! He'll appear in over the shoulder graphics, stand-alone promos, even those terrible tease thingies where the anchor lady tells you to hang tough through one more hemorrhoid commercial while they cue up video of your blessed event. No, not the ACTUAL event. We swear no cameras were rolling when you held that epidural tech hostage. In fact, we're willing to forget the whole episode with the ice chips and IV tube if you'll just do us a tiny favor...

See, we got three news crews cooling their jets in the lobby. There's not a lot going on in the Upper Golden Homeland today and the fact of the matter is they're not leaving until they score a sit-down interview with a baby that debuted between midnight and their morning shows. We've checked out records and as far as they know, little Junior here is the aforementioned newborn. Soooo, if you'll just sign this release we can have these news losers off the property before our security chief seizes up again. We've already sent our PR guy downstairs, but the most he can stall them is a few minutes so while that's happening could you just put your initials on this paragraph promising you won't sue us should your child attract his own fake Twitter account...

Okay, I'm being told they're in the elevator telling off-color jokes, blocking gurneys and offending visitors. When they get here, look only at the pretty reporter types. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT gaze directly at any of the camera people. They are most likely ravenous, hungover and pulling down double-time on a day like this. Any attempt on your part to encourage conversation with said camera staff will render any future prescription discounts null and void. Trust me, the LAST thing you want to so is spend the next six hours listening to a schlub like that give you parenting tips. I once saw one of those guys pimp his kid out for a 'To Catch a Predator' ad. SHHH! Here they come! Remember -- the baby is beautiful, our patient care is top notch and you DO NOT need any further video services and/or lifestyle advice from men who wear fishing vests to fancy ballroom dinners...

Now, hold the baby and smile."